I have returned to my roots, by which I mean I have once more sat down to run a game.
This time it was Phoenix: Dawn Command, which in its theme harkens back
to many years ago when I was heavily involved in running Exalted Second Edition campaigns.
Phoenix: Dawn Command is a fantasy game with a setting
reminiscent of the Ancient Rome Empire, at least, that's the feeling I get from
looking at the art alone. The game itself can accommodate up to four players so
I thought it would be a good fit for a third club game, since that usually gets
only a handful of players.
While the game's website offers a set of pre-made characters, I thought that
giving only four for players to pick from wouldn't be enough of a choice and
some might feel like they're picking a leftover character. Instead of going
with those, I sat down and created six characters, trying very hard not to have
duplicate Traits between them. Additionally, I presented the players
with a choice of basic supernatural powers to choose from to further customise
their chosen character.
In the end, we ended up with a Durant, Forceful, Elemental and
Mission One: The Harvest
The first mission finds the group of Phoenixes, called a Wing, in the
seat of Dawn Command's power when an urgent message is received. The Wing
is approached by Cinder, a powerful Elemental who serves as one of their
commanding officers. At this point, the scenario suggests asking the players to
describe Cinder. It seemed an odd idea when I read it. You don't normally ask
players to provide detail on the surroundings but I thought I'd give it a try
nonetheless. Only one player provided some description of Cinder, which is more
than I expected, so I picked some other elements from the provided ones that
struck my fancy in particular.
We ended up with an old, bald man with sunburnt skin and an aura of heat
surrounding him. He wields a tall charred staff. He has a long white beard that
sometimes catches on fire and it is said that when he gets mad, people explode.
He gave them simple instructions: Enter the Imperial Flame (which acts as a
gateway between their current location and Dawn Command's outposts throughout
the Empire), Investigate and Survive. He also warned them that since whoever
contacted them is not responding, they're most likely going straight into
Exactly as predicted, the first Phoenix through, the Durant, stepped out of the
flame and into a chamber of carved solid black marble where what appeared to be
a gruesome undead knight was menacing an adept. They exchanged blows once
before the Shrouded came through and promptly disappeared out of sight only to
reappear behind the knight, stab him in the back and swirl its cape around his
person so that when it fell, he was once again out of sight.
Unfortunately, the Dreadknight consumed the adept's
fear as a mass of black cloud exited his orifices and flew into the horrendous
being. A shockwave emanated from his person, injuring all who were nearby. When
the Elemental came through, it seemed as if his Wingmates did nothing all this
The fight continued, the Elemental reached into the Imperial Flame and threw
fire at the knight while the Durant took the Imperial Banner he found in the
chamber and charged the undead creature with a fierce battle cry. The Forceful
fought with lightning speed while the Shrouded, going by the name Tome,
convinced the adept that he will be safe provided he flees from the violence.
With the adept gone, the Dreadknight was left without his power source and was
quickly defeated by the Wing's combined efforts.
After that scene concluded, I realised I made a mistake. Normally in a
roleplaying game you have some system to define Initiative Order, the
order of when all characters involved in a fight get to act. In Phoenix,
however, you've got what's called a Torch. It's a card defining elements
of the environment but it also functions as a marker of who gets to act.
Whoever holds the Torch is the active player and may perform an action.
Who's going next is entirely up to the active player as he passes the Torch to
a fellow player.
As previously mentioned, it has a list of elements that are part of the scene.
Players can interact with them to gain special benefits. In this case, they
used them to improve their attacks. What I forgot about is that using an Environmental
Element also allows a player to draw a card.
Thus we get to the point that drove me to getting this game. Instead of using
dice as a form of action resolution, Phoenix uses special cards that you
play in order to overcome a numerical difficulty. For instance, the Dreadknight
they fought had a Defence of 4 so while performing their attack, a player must
have had to play cards up to at least a total value of 4 for the attack to
connect. Of course, there are limitations to what you can play and good
roleplaying allows you to add onto the value of what you've played but I must
sadly say that by forgetting about this rule, I've put the players at a
disadvantage. I'll rectify this error in future fight scenes.
Since it was the first session and I spent a good chunk of time explaining the
basic rules and setting information, by the time the fight concluded the pub
was about to close. The Forceful managed to find the adept out in the corridor,
which was strangely covered by a mist that gave him the creeps, and brought him
back into the chamber. Said adept was having some form of panic attack but got
progressively better the closer he got to the Imperial Flame from which the
Phoenixes entered the stronghold. Talking to him they've learned that they're
under attack by some masked lord with a cloak composed of shadowy faces and
several of these knights in his entourage. They burst through the gates, stuff
happened and the adept ran to call for help.
As the adept gave his panicked and rather lacking in detail description of the
event that unfolded, Tome realised he had heard this place was once the stronghold
of The Harvester of Fear, a powerful figure in local folklore called a Fallen
One, that the Phoenixes banished from this world a long time ago. After
which they repurposed the stronghold into one of their own.
Armed with this knowledge, they were resolute to stop The Harvester from
reclaiming his power. The following session found the The Wing venturing out into
the Aerie's corridors.
As they moved through the waist high mist, they noticed odd shapes within.
Black shadows the size of insects were writhing through it. After studying them
for a moment, Tome, the Shrouded, came to the conclusion that these
things were a type of spirit, tiny manifestations of fear. Whenever one grazed
a Phoenix, they experienced visions of their first death.
At this point, the scenario suggested the players
perform a Skill Spread. They had to aim for a value of 15 at a minimum
or die instantly, consumed by their fears. Of course, the rules allow players
to add 1 to their value for each Spark they are willing to spend. Sparks
are a special resource used by players to activate their characters'
As a Game Master, I object to having players forced into such situations. I
eased the consequences so that anyone unable to reach 15 would be given an Exposed
Condition instead. This represented their character being in the grip of
fear and gave them negative modifiers in a fight, putting them at a
disadvantage later on. As written, this would have occurred provided a player
didn't reach 20.
While they managed to shake off this fear effect, the Aerie's mortal staff was
not as fortunate. First they encountered a soldier throwing around his sword wildly,
seemingly fighting off unseen assailants. The Phoenixes unarmed and grabbed him
but were unable to reason with the soldier through his screams of terror. After
a moment he collapsed in Ram's, the Durant, arms. They found a chamber
to leave him in and continued to the main gate.
At one point during their trek, Tome was reminded of a tale of the Fallen called
The Harvester of Fear. It spoke of a Skavi warlord who made a bargain with The
Harvester to get himself rid of a clan encroaching on his land. The Harvester
gave material shape to the warlord's enemies' fears which slaughtered the clan.
Unfortunately, the fears then turned on the warlord and ravaged his lands. This
is most certainly who, or what, they were dealing with here.
Normally, going through a structure erected by an inhuman will would be
difficult for someone who has never walked these halls before but the Wing knew
exactly which path to take thanks to Tome's Astonishing Luck, a special Trait
the character possesses. It turned out he remembered being in this very Aerie
during his mortal days when he had to navigate his way through the twisting
corridors blindfolded. While at the time he didn't encounter people lying on
the floor in a catatonic state, screaming their throats out or seeing the
bodies of people who tried desperately to claw their way out through solid
stone, he nonetheless brought the Wing to the entrance.
As they inspected it, they noticed there was no forced entry. The gate must
have simply swung open, allowing the Fallen to enter unmolested. This made
sense considering this Aerie was once The Harvester's stronghold in this part
of Skavia. As they pondered their next move, they heard screams coming from a
lower level. Gale, the Forceful, dashed forward towards the sound. The Wing
Gale ran down the stairs leading to the lower floors with astonishing speed. He
was the first to reach a large chamber that once must have been the great hall
of this palace. Within it stood a statue of an enormous ebony tree to which the
Aerie's staff and local villagers were strung. An ominous figure wearing an
ivory mask, wielding a sceptre and clad in a black cloak on which one could see
faces writhing in agony moved around it. It was cutting symbols into a villager
while assuring him that the longer he were to scream, the longer he would live.
The rest of the Wing joined Gale shortly after he witnessed a black mass
bleeding out of the villager's wounds and being sucked up into a sphere atop
the tree. Although the hall was additionally guarded by a Dreadknight similar
to the one they fought earlier, they wasted no time before charging in.
Armed with knowledge as to what to expect of the creature, they defeated the
knight with extreme prejudice before going after The Harvester. Unfortunately,
the moment its knight fell, it called out to the knight's essence, creating a
psychic shockwave that plunged each Phoenix into their personal nightmares.
Some were able to shake off the effect while others suffered fear-induced
Willow, the Elemental, slung fire at the Fallen One while Ram used his
inhuman strength to drive a fist into it. That temporarily disabled The
Harvester and it had great difficulties landing a blow. Meanwhile, Gale shot
arrows at it while running towards and onto the tree. Tome proceeded with his
surgical strikes from the shadows.
The entire Wing was certain they could take this
creature down until The Harvester sucked out a portion of their power. It then
turned to Gale as he released a rain of arrows onto it. It reached out into the
fear that gripped Gale's heart and death was nearly upon him until Ram stood in
the way of the tendrils shooting out towards his Wingmate. When they pierced
through him, he noticed they had no effect on him personally as his heart was
pure. This moment of confusion was all that Tome needed. He jumped out of his
concealment and with all his supernal might drove a spear into The Harvester.
The exertion costed him dearly as his body could not withstand the might of his
personal Flame, he turned to ash as the Fallen lay defeated.
Since Phoenix: Dawn Command relies on playing cards as a form of
resolving actions, rather than the typical dice rolling mechanics, it took some
getting used to for the players last session. I was extremely happy to see how,
in this second combat encounter, they worked together as a team, relying on
their abilities to strengthen their Wingmates. The Elemental burned his Health
so others could recover Sparks, while the Durant used a card to redirect The
Harvester's attack. When the Shrouded decided to go for the killing blow, the
rest of the Wing played cards that added to his result. I was worried that due
to their extreme teamwork, they didn't get a sense of how powerful an opponent
they were facing but I managed to land at least one blow that nearly killed a
character... the look on the players' faces was truly priceless when they heard
Gale would lose all but one Health Token if the attack were to connect.
Unlike during last session where I had to use a piece of paper for the Torch,
due to the template that came with the game proving to be especially resistant
to pencils, I managed to find a file on the game's website that had a print out
of all the Torches for the published scenarios. Our main issue was explaining
the Initiative Order which the game technically lacks.
When The Harvester had its Speed reduced by 1 after getting Stunned, the
players seemed confused why when their Initiative Order reset itself, it went
before them. Surely, the Fallen One should have gone after them but rather than
moving a character up or down on an initiative track, Phoenix Dawn Command
allows each player to take an action in whatever order they decide. The only
restriction is that each of them has to act before the cycle resets.
This ensures that each player has a chance to act. Non-player characters,
however, act after a number of Phoenixes equal to their Speed have
acted. This caused some confusion for players who are used to every participant
acting once before the entire cycle begins anew. I have to admit, keeping track
of active participants is somewhat tricky but overall, the fight went well and
we finally had a heroic death!
Which means Tome will get an upgrade when he is reborn for the next mission.
As Tome's body turned to ash, so did The Harvester's physical form slowly
dissolve. It lay on the marble floor, slowly turning to nothingness, but before
it dissipated completely, he left the Phoenixes with a warning. It said that
they may have won this battle but they shan't defeat... Ram violently stomped
on its mask. I didn't expect Ram, the Durant, to try to silence the Fallen One in
such a grievous manner.
Fortunately, his words were telepathic, seemingly
whispered into their ears, so despite its shattered face, it continued to speak
of how it will return so long as there is fear in the hearts of the Aerie's
With his body returned to the Dusk, their culture's version of the
underworld, the Phoenixes heard glass cracking. They all turned towards the top
of the tree where the black mass within the sphere writhed ferociously. It began
Gale, the Forceful, continued his climb, grabbed the sphere and
released the Flamekeeper they came to rescue. With Tome, the Shrouded,
being a smouldering pile of ash, their expert warlock was unavailable for
comment. They all turned to Willow, the Elemental.
Willow took the sphere into his hands and examined it closely. More cracks
appeared on its surface. He managed to get a rather impressive score on his Skill
Spread so I provided him with some useful information. It appeared that the
sphere contained all the fear of the people tortured by The Harvester and
without the Fallen One to stabilise it, it was breaking apart. Left unattended,
it would soon explode and ravage the surrounding land, making it uninhabitable.
They had two choices at this point, other than allowing it to lay waste to
the Aerie. They might attempt a ritual that would bind the sphere to their Wing
and, with any luck, stabilise it long enough to bring it back to the Grand
Aerie where the Marshals can deal with it. The other option was to wait for it
to explode. It would instantly destroy whoever held it but a Phoenix could then
bind the escaping fears to their Flame and drag them with him to the Dusk. Of
course, Willow left out that said Phoenix would have to then face each fear in
his Crucible, their personal underworld, and defeat each and every one before
As a group they decided to let Willow do his thing as neither of the other
characters actually understood the situation they were in. I had to point out
that although both their characters are Strength-based that did not mean they
were stupid but, as it turned out, they were simply roleplaying ignorance. As
Ram is a soldier and Gale a hunter, neither of them was wise in the mystical
ways of spirits. As it made sense, I rewarded Willow with a bonus to his Skill
Spread to bind the sphere.
Willow was a shaman's apprentice in his first life so he did exceptionally
well on his Skill Spread, allowing him to stabilise the sphere and hinder it
from exploding for the time being. Meanwhile, The Harvester's victims slowly
began to wake. Although they appeared mostly healthy, it quickly became
apparent that whatever wounds were inflicted upon them were deeper than flesh.
When asked, the Flamekeeper spoke of being taken by the Dreadknight and
abandoned in a vast forest with untold horrors lurking around until he saw Gale
and he was back in the Aerie.
The Wing did not dare to leave the mortals with fear hanging above them. Ram
walked amid the people and reassured them they were under their care. For was
it not true that the Phoenixes came the moment they were in danger? One could
not anticipate all that is to come but they may rest soundly knowing that
whatever comes for them, will have to go through the Phoenixes' Flame first.
And their flame burns brighter than darkness can consume.
The mood in the Aerie was lifted and the Wing got a sense that The Harvester
won't be able to return for at least a couple of months. With that in mind,
they bid the Aerie's staff farewell and began their march back to the Grand
At this point the scenario proposes an interlude to give characters who
didn't die an opportunity to do just that but as none of the three remaining
characters cared to make a sacrifice after the battle with The Harvester, I
decided to go straight into the epilogue for this mission.
Upon their safe return, the Wing gave the sphere to Cinder who congratulated
them on a job well done and took it away for further study. The Wing found Tome
chilling with a glass of wine in the hall. He told them he decided to come back
as a noble this time around hence why he was wearing a toga. While previously
his Wingmates were unable to tell his gender due to his tendency to change his
clothing on a semi-regular basis. Now that half his chest was bare, they were
fairly certain he was a man.